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Pundit Pap for June 15, 2003
We Need a Brinkley Now More Than Ever
By the Pundit Pap Team

June 15, 2003 -- WASHINGTON/NEW YORK (apj.us) -- This Sunday, the pundits actually took a look at the continuing mess in Iraq -- from American soldiers as the targets of small militia-style to the lack of a stable infrastructure to those missing WMDs (weapons of mass destruction -- the "100 to 500 tons' of chemical and biological weapons that the Bunnypants Administration claimed that Saddam Hussein was sitting on top of, and that nuclear program that looks not to have been able to recover from an Israeli Air Force raid that took out their one reactor over a decade ago). There was even mention of the continuing economic mess.

Granted, the spin on the stories was for the most part Shrubya-friendly, but the questioning was a bit on the tough side outside of FAUX News Channel.

And it goes without saying that the death of beloved broadcast journalism giant David Brinkley garnered much of the airtime on ABC, where his Sunday morning program, This Week With David Brinkley, combined one part Meet the Press with one part Agronsky & Company, putting both the political newsmakers and the Washington press corps (read: no liberals, thank you, we're establishment broadcasters) in the spotlight.

There were three headline-makers we caught: one from Dick Lugar and two from Wesley Clark. Here is the brief rundown:


This Week
Road trip!

Players: George "Steph" Stephanopoulos, looking a bit wrinkled after chasing Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) around Iowa on the presidential campaign trail
David Brinkley, in a series of archival snippets and remembered with reverence by a slew of politicians, pundits and even a journalist or two

George Stephanopoulos led off This Week with a report from correspondent Dave Marisch in Iraq concerning the continuing mess there. The spin: American forces face a "continued unpredictable" situation in Iraq. The truth: Iraqis are seething over the killing of civilians and the failure to restore order and infrastructure, and the war continues.

Steph then turned to another correspondent for the latest on Mideast mayhem. The spin: parties are scrambling to put Shrub's "road map" back on track. The truth: the road map has been run through a shredder as the situation has spiraled into a cycle of retribution and murder, there's not much prospect of things getting better, and some Israelis are beginning to wonder if Israeli Prime Minister Arial Sharon has Jewish blood on his hands (http://www.nytimes.com/2003/06/15/international/worldspecial/15ENEM.html).

Steph turned to the what he labeled the first "special segment" of Campaign 2004. He's going to be tagging along with the Democrat presidential candidates. He started the segment with the admission,"I know it's early!"

We all but laughed out loud -- for the corporate media, it's never too early to start bashing Democrats -- and, naturally, his first victim would be John Kerry, who has been on the receiving end of some of the sleaziest pseudojournalism of 2003 as he was falsely attacked for supposedly "covering up" a Jewish ancestor.

But Steph did not come out attacking -- instead, he detailed Kerry's war hero status and his impression of Kerry as an "alpha male" who doesn't wear a helmet when riding his Harley (of which we'd be seeing a little further on in the segment).

What followed was an "on the road" travelogue of Steph on the road, first talking with AP's Mike Glover, who sees Democrat rank-and-filers in Iowa as perceiving Kerry as a potential winner. Weather had delayed Kerry's plane by three hours. Steph cut to the leaders in a recent Iowa poll (in order: Gephardt, Kerry, Dean) before cutting to Kerry addressing a question about the WMD scandal. He said that he does not regret voting to go to war with Saddam (which makes good political sense in that Saddam Hussein is even less popular than Osama bin Laden or even Kathie Lee Gifford), but regrets that George the Lesser "failed" as a diplomat (Democrats have not hesitated to use this "f" word about His Illegitimacy -- but you see little of it from the broadcast press).

There followed a clip of a voter who had been skeptical of Kerry but who seemed won over, saying that he was not "aloof and arrogant." (But Steph -- that's the spin being pushed by the GOP even more than Kerry's rivals -- remember how they tried to paint Gore as a "liar constantly reinventing himself").

Finally, some actual banter between Steph and Kerry was shown, and too much time wasted on Kerry's morning bowl of oatmeal. Steph went back to the themes of "war hero" and "macho man" by pointing out that Kerry's energy speech was given at a VFW hall and his Harley was prominent. There was also a clip of Kerry pressing his latest campaign point: America needs a national energy policy that will end dependence on Mideast oil. Steph then quizzed Kerry on the Mideast mess, and Kerry said that if the Palestinian authority is not committed to stopping the violence, Israel will do it -- and will be justified.

Steph also brought up the "issue" of Smirk having "possibly" misled the public on WMD with "hyped intelligence". Kerry, to our disappointment, said it would be irresponsible to comment until all the information is on the table (c'mon, John, get tough!) -- but added that Congress needs an investigation to see if the US public and Congress was misled and the whether or not the CIA was serving the interests of the Administration rather than presenting the full truth (okay -- so he did get out those two points in no uncertain terms).

Steph also lingered over imagery of Kerry on the Harley, and the candidate lamenting having to put aside his testosterone-laden hobbies to campaign -- and to raise money.

Steph then cut to a clip of another Democrat presidential candidate, fiery Gov. Howard Dean (VT), who was pushing his main theme: "Take the country back!" Kerry was next, and sensing a tired crowd, he joked about everything having been said -- but everybody hasn't said it yet. He then tested a new theme: a "new patriotism" including volunteerism.

Backstage, Steph made a lot out of Kerry having not mentioned his vote for a resolution of war against Saddam. Kerry said he is more than comfortable with having made what he sees as the right choice. In a follow-up, Kerry brought up one of his other goals in passing, but certainly the crucial goal in most political campaigns: getting fence-sitters to vote for him. He ended by talking a little about what our country should be and where our country can be (naturally, without specifying either).

The second half hour was spent paying tribute to David Brinkley -- replete with Washington's power players paying tribute to the legendary journalist and a panel of former ABC colleagues paying tribute to his measured pace and fairness.

And since his retirement and death, it has become clear that Brinkley leaned right in his views. Our own recollections of him are a s a fair, decorous and mostly disinterested moderator on Sunday mornings and a thorough, measured journalist on NBC's flagship Huntley-Brinkley Report -- with only one major slip-up when, on Election Night 1996, he called Bill Clinton a "boring politician." Brinkley later apologized to President Clinton for the gaffe, and Clinton, naturally, accepted the apology with grace.

He couldn't have been more wrong on that point -- but then, compare his track record of punditry with, say, George Will or Bob Novak. Most of the Washington press corps should head the the Museum of Television and watch a few old episodes of This Week.


FAUX News Sunday
Agenda-driven drivel

Players: immoderator Tony Snow, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA).

Tony Snow began FNS with the usual (slanted) roundup of headlines: a raid against terrorist suspects in two Saudi Arabian cities, a sympathetically-spun news item about Iranian student antigovernment protesters having been brutalized by pro-theocracy enforcers, and a report from some stumbling FAUX correspondent in Jerusalem pushing the view that the new Palestinian Prime Minister must either fight Hamas or become an evildoer himself!

Tony welcomed Sen. Lugar, asking him first about Israel's policy of targeted "assassinations". Lugar opposes "targeted killings", then undid the spin of the news piece by pointing out that Abbas may not have adequate resources to shut down Hamas. (But... but.... but Senator, you can't do that to Roger Ailes!) Lugar said the polls show US citizens opposing intervention -- but "never underestimate George Bush" (translation: never underestimate his political guru Karl "Rasputin-meets-Goebbels" Rove), even though there is danger of "overstepping." (Translation: if Incurious George gets "engaged" and the situation gets worse, why, it could look bad!)

Tony was pushing a slew of anti-Hamas questions (and who can blame him?), but Lugar wisely pointed out that Hamas may not be the only party at fault, which prompted Tony to mention Arafat (as opposed to, say, Al Aqsa, Islamic Jihad, or for that matter Al Qaeda), which in turn served as a cue to Lugar to call for power to be centralized with Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas. Lugar said that the next few days will be crucial -- Tony suggested military aid to Abbas -- Lugar said it is a possibility, but there must be great care about use of US forces.

That was the headline-maker from the interview -- Lugar suggesting that US forces just might have to take on Hamas. The problem, of course, is that there has been a complete failure of American public relations to make anything approaching headway in the Arab world against the homicidal religious extremist element, and going to de facto war with Hamas could escalate into a wider campaign against American citizens, businesses and interests.

And interestingly, both Tony and Lugar failed to mention that Abbas has the support of maybe 2% of Palestinians.

Tony brought up the possibility of NATO or UN forces intervening in Palestinian territory; Lugar said it is a possibility, and Tony suggested that these forces go after Hamas, Al Aqsa and other terrorist groups. Tony then tried to bring up some European countries' support for Palestinian independence (as if there's anything wrong with that so long as Israel is secure) ) and "support for terrorist groups." (Huh? Care to specify, Tony?)

Is Al Qaeda trying to undermine US efforts in Iraq? Lugar gave a qualified "probably." Tony then gave Lugar a chance to shill for the new telegenic Iraq viceroy, Paul Bremer.

Would Lugar like to see regime change in Iran? "Not necessarily" -- Lugar supports "an Iranian process" that "we can assist." Lugar said that he is "trying" to work with Team Smirk -- and implied that they don't have their act together on Iran policy (ha, ha).

Tony then went into fearmongering mode, letting Lugar talk about the capture of an Asian tied to a terror group who had radioactive material in his possession, wielding the specter of a "dirty bomb" in the cheapest possible way (while avoiding the subject of that Iraqi nuclear facility that our Pentagon geniuses somehow forgot to secure).

Following the break, Tony and Brit Hume quizzed Rep. Jane Harman on the WMD scandal. Naturally, they started by implicitly accusing Democrats of being mean and unfair and daring to question the honesty of the Imbecile Prince with their first question: is she saying that Smirk and Co. lied? Harman, who -- unfortunately for Tony and his accomplice, Brit "Pruneface" Hume, is not a "soft and chewy" liberal (she's more a DLC Democrat) and can stand up to FAUX-style spin, said in rather blunt terms that she and her committee intend to look into it. (Translation: what'cha gonna do when we prove that your hero the Segway Stumbler lied to the American people?)

The rest of the interview seemed tense and contentious from the Murdoch tag team, but Harman was as fast-paced and cheerful yet terse as she met them blow-for-blow. Here's the rest of the interview in our inimitable shorthand:

Tony: Did you actually read the reports?
Harman: Yes, Tony.
Tony: So you're saying there was false info?
Harman: Many of the qualifiers on the intelligence are missing in the report, Tony.
Brit: So the distortion is "just oversimplification" from the Administration.
Harman: No, young man -- the question is whether or not the qualifiers are credible.
Brit: But... but.. Saddam had WMDs!
Harman: Where are they? It's counterintuitive that he destroyed them ALL, but where are they?
Brit: Have you come across exaggerations or improperly sourced information?
Harman: I haven't finished examining all of the evidence, so you'll have to wait. (Translation: we have something and I'm keeping my powder dry -- get ready to eat your spin, Pruneface.)
Tony: Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL, presidential candidate) has dared to say that Smirk is a liar! What do you have to say about that?
Harman: Graham is a man of great integrity. (Translation: you can take what he says to the bank, Tony -- your boy Junior's a liar.) I have not seen every word Graham has said. (Translation: I'm not going to let you put his words in my mouth without being 100% sure.) And the intelligence saying Saddam was going to fire WMDs at Israel was outright wrong.
Tony: If the weapons were not found, would this have been an unjust war?
Harman: Wrong question! If they are not found (she should have added "in the quantity the administration claimed"), it will undercut the justification for the war and American (read: Junior's) credibility.
Brit: Iraqis were tortured. Doesn't that add justification?
Harman: What about other countries that do it? Should we invade every one?
Tony: What about rumors that they've been dispersed to other countries?
Harman: Maybe Smirk's bellicose stupidity caused them to be dispersed. Wouldn't that be a little problem? (Sadly, she didn't say that this means that if it's true, Clinton-style containment was working -- and Little Snippy's saber-rattling led to Saddam dispersing his weapons).

When the talk turned to the Mideast, Harman called for Arafat to be removed from power and given "the Idi Amin option" -- exile. Harman wants Powell to urge Arab countries to back Arafat's peaceful removal. Abbas, said Harman, is a great hope for peace.

Will there be a recall election in California? Harman hopes not -- but California has a $37 billion deficit, meaning might succeed Davis is toast anyway. (Reading between the lines, it's clear that Harman thinks Davis will lose a recall vote.)


Meet the Pest
Spinning the quagmire known as the "road map to peace"
Players: inquisitor Tim Russert, Israeli Ambassador to the US Daniel Ayalon, Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA).

Tim Russert made item one the Mideast mess. Israel's Ambassador to the US Daniel Ayalon was his first guest.

Ayalon said that the Abbas Administration strongly supports peace and is funding the Palestinian Authority to fight terrorists. Ayalon was pressed about Abbas' 2% approval rating among Palestinians (Hamas gets 17%) -- but Ayalon said he questions the poll itself. Tim talked about the press having said that the "pretend-a-dent" has jumped all over Shatron for assassinating Hamas leaders and operatives; Ayalon said Israel is fully justified in going after terrorists (as if they are going to send any signals of compromise on MTP). Tim suggested that Smirk is setting one standard for the US and a tighter one for Israel; Ayalon said he doesn't see this at all. Tim then read part of an LA Times piece which details Team Smirk advising Sharon to show restraint. Ayalon said there were indications that there was an imminent terror attack -- and Israel preempted it; their request to the Palestinian Authority to help them was for naught. And Ayalon pointed out a problem (one that the US and Arab press do not make enough of) -- a culture among Palestinian of glorifying suicide attackers. Tim turned to the Reuters headline: Sharon vows to continue attacks on terrorists. Ayalon said that Israel would like to see Palestinians stop terrorists -- but they are either unwilling or unable. Tim also mentioned another headline: Five new Jewish settlements in Palestinian territory. Ayalon said Israel is committed to stopping them. (Unfortunately, this makes Sharon look about as credible as Arafat -- Sharon is surely under pressure from both sides on the issue, but is squandering a chance to look like he is tough both on Islamist terrorists and Zionist zealots.)

Talk turned to Iran -- and Ayalon said it is shameful for Iran, with ample energy resources, to engage in a nuclear program that not only will destabilize the region but "beyond" -- given that they are working on long-range missiles. (Naturally, this helps Team Smirk in their effort to further demonize Iran.)

Saddam Hussein: dead or alive? Ayalon: who knows?

Tim's next guest: Wesley Clark, who called for more than the weak bilateral negotiations to settle the Israeli-Palestinian crisis: engage Jordan, Syria, and Egypt along with Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Does Clark propose positioning NATO forces to enforce the peace? Only after the political situation has been settled, said Clark, who reminded Tim that there is also a need for experience against the terrorist forces in the region. Clark took a swipe at what he characterized as a weak "road map for peace." What about Iran? Clark suggests more vigorous engagement with the present regime. What about military action to take out their nuclear program? No, said Clark, only as a last resort -- inspections and engagement are the proper and appropriate route to take. What about North Korea? Tim added that they are not allowing inspections of their nuclear program. Clark said they look to be reprocessing plutonium -- we had them frozen starting in 1994 for a number of years, and they "crossed the red line" while we were in Iraq. It is time to toughen up and build an alliance to get tough with North Korea; they are a paranoid regime that uses force and takes lessons from our actions. There is, Clark added ominously, a possibility that the nuclear genie is out.

Tim asked Clark to assess the Iraq situation. Clark contradicted Team Smirk, saying there is organized resistance -- but localized, and with foreign fighters. That is manageable. Clark also said it appears things are getting better in Baghdad. But life for Iraqis must go on, and we have to know who is influencing the Shiites -- is Iran creating anti-Americanism among Iraqis? Clark added that the US was just not ready to reconstruct Iraq, and had not done their homework about what to do once the war is won -- and squandered the warm welcome. The post-war planning did not receive the priority Clark and others said it should have. Clark predicted that the US is going to be in Iraq for a long time. Clark also said that originally, he thought Saddam should not have been the focus of military action -- but now he feels that getting Saddam is in fact important, since Saddam had sought to make the war against the US "personal." Clark also said that investigations will show that any WMDs that turn up in Iraq were in fact not the imminent threat that the Administration claimed. Clark believes there was "hype of" and "selective reading in" the intelligence designed to manufacture popular consent for the war against Saddam -- and the effort to gin up a war with Saddam goes back to the period immediately after Sept. 11, 2001.

Clark then dropped a huge bomb on some unnamed right wing think tanks. He said that on Sept. 11, he got calls from many people tied to administration allies telling him to say the attacks were tied to state-sponsored terrorism (i.e. Saddam) -- and when he asked for proof, they could not provide it.

In a world where the press actually stood for the public interest, this would be a front-page story: hawks seeking to use an attack by a gang of religiously insane terrorist criminals as a pretext to go to war with Iraq, and trying to get an authoritative voice on regional affairs to go along with their spin/

Clark also said that Team Smirk has not dealt with the essential failure to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks -- and this plays to the credibility of and trust in the government.

It sure sounded to us as if Clark is laying out some key campaign points -- the ones he might use if he decides to run for president, the ones the rest of the candidates should use if lark doesn't.

Tim returned the discussion to WMDs. Clark said that the imminence of a WMD threat was never revealed by the Maladministration.

Tim then played Tom DeLay's dismissal of Clark -- because, claims DeLay, he is running for President. Clark slapped around DeLay by pointing out that unlike DeLay, Clark has an understanding of how military operations work.

Then Tim started a series of questions leading to the second of Clark's headline-making comments: does he want to be president? Clark said he wants to pitch in and help a country in trouble -- and he "has to consider" a run in the next couple months. Tim then showed the home page for DraftWesleyClark.com -- does he want their ads in New Hampshire to continue? Clark said he has no tie to the group and he is impressed by their efforts. So you'll run as a Democrat? Clark said there's not been a successful third party bid, and it's a step he'll have to work on. He says he has interest on both sides -- but as for the GOP. they claim to be the party of fiscal responsibility but supported insane tax cuts (now that's a major hint). They don't sufficiently stimulate the economy, and they were apportioned unfairly. Clark said he supports progressive taxation. As president, would he rescind them? That has to be looked at. Tim: "Candidate Clark is for raising taxes." Clark did not handle this one well -- he did say that taxes should be low but revenue must be sufficient to pay for programs. He should have said that abolishing cuts is not raising taxes.

Tim turned to Ass-KKKroft's PATRIOT II -- and Clark said he is concerned about its excesses (without using the word "excesses"). Tim said that Clark supports the University of Michigan's affirmative action program that critics are trying to label "reverse discrimination." Clark said there remains a problem with racial discrimination against minorities that must continue to be addressed. He also pointed out that the issue of gays in the military seems to have cooled down in the last decade and cited the inclusive British "Don't ask, don't misbehave" policy. Tim then asked a stupid question: would he allow US forces to serve in NATO exercises with forces that do allow gay soldiers? Clark almost laughed out loud as he said, "They already do!"

Tim then tried to foment a "scandal," asking why Clark was forced to step down as NATO commander? He said he honestly did not know, and everyone that has been asked seems to have a different reason -- but then blasted the Pentagon and Joint Chiefs for being more interested in what Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) would do about appropriations than in keeping the peace in the former Yugoslavia.

So... looks like someone on the GOP side was playing politics with the Supreme Commander.

We'll see if that first "headline maker" even merits mention in the papers tomorrow morning -- but you can be sure that Clark's announcement that he will or will not get in the presidential race will have people buzzing tonight and tomorrow.

And one other thing is for certain. We watched David Brinkley. Brinkley was one of our favorite interviewers and pundits. Tim Russert, you are no David Brinkley.

-- Morrie Friendly

Morrie Friendly gave up a career as a political consultant to become a management consultant and pseudonymous travel guide author. He retains close ties to top players in both the Democratic and Republican parties and lives with his dog in Georgetown.

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